There was nothing in the backgrounds of Kallie North and Jessy Wilson to suggest they would even meet, much less discover in their voices an astonishing unity that would land them in Elle magazine’s 2015 Women in Music issue.
An East Texas native, North had spent most of the previous decade in Mississippi as a writer and photographer “documenting the things I love about the Delta, mainly rural landscapes and blues culture.”
During that time, the Brooklyn-born Wilson was touring as a backup singer for John Legend and helping to write songs for Grammy-nominated R&B albums by Ledisi and Fantasia Barrino.
Yearning for a new venue for their storytelling, each ended up in Nashville, where about three years ago Wilson was playing in a record-label executive’s office when she became transfixed by a picture of an old juke-joint piano. Wilson didn’t get a deal, but left with the name of the photographer, Kallie North.
Introductions made, they discovered similar musical tastes: North was raised in the Baptist church where her mother was choir director; Wilson loved soul singers with church backgrounds, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Otis Redding. North, 32, and Wilson, 28, also grew up with the same pop and rock music, from Britney Spears to Radiohead.
They were a Nashville songwriting team (providing South Florida singer Brooke Eden with “Daddy’s Money”) until the day North was asked to sing on a friend’s demo and called Wilson to the studio for advice. The producer asked Wilson to join in and … magic.
“We looked at each other, like, ‘Damn, how do we sound like we’ve been singing together for years?’” Wilson recalls.
“You could tell how different we were without even seeing us, but then it felt so perfectly matched,” says North, calling her response “an amazing confusion.”
A few months later, Rolling Stone Country was calling the newly formed Muddy Magnolias the best unsigned act at the 2014 CMA Music Festival in Nashville for their “powerhouse vocals, no-holds-barred harmonies and a vibe that's like the Band Perry raised on Aretha Franklin — performed as if Mick Jagger and Keith Richards inhabited the Indigo Girls.”
Their performance on April 16 at the Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale follows a series of shows opening for blues-guitar great Gary Clark Jr., including a February performance at the Fillmore Miami Beach. Last month, they performed on a cruise out of Miami hosted by Kid Rock.
A yet-to-be titled album on I.R.S. Records Nashville is due this summer, but the duo has been posting songs as they go at MuddyMagnolias.com, including a stirring rendition of Clark’s “Church” and the funky original “Broken People,” a socially conscious rocker that echoes the best of soul singer Bill Withers.
“Country music might be the last genre to be infusing all these other genres into their festivals, but it’s awesome,” North says in anticipation of their Tortuga performance. “Music listeners these days are listening to it all, and eventually I don’t think there will be festivals that are genre-based. I don’t think music is doing that anymore. We’re just excited to be down there representing blues, soul and rock and roll.”
Onstage: Muddy Magnolias will perform 12:30-1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Tortuga Music Festival.